Articles | Volume 17, issue 7
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2781–2796, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2781–2796, 2013

Research article 16 Jul 2013

Research article | 16 Jul 2013

On the sources of global land surface hydrologic predictability

S. Shukla1,*, J. Sheffield2, E. F. Wood2, and D. P. Lettenmaier1 S. Shukla et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
  • 2Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
  • *now at: Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA

Abstract. Global seasonal hydrologic prediction is crucial to mitigating the impacts of droughts and floods, especially in the developing world. Hydrologic predictability at seasonal lead times (i.e., 1–6 months) comes from knowledge of initial hydrologic conditions (IHCs) and seasonal climate forecast skill (FS). In this study we quantify the contributions of two primary components of IHCs – soil moisture and snow water content – and FS (of precipitation and temperature) to seasonal hydrologic predictability globally on a relative basis throughout the year. We do so by conducting two model-based experiments using the variable infiltration capacity (VIC) macroscale hydrology model, one based on ensemble streamflow prediction (ESP) and another based on Reverse-ESP (Rev-ESP), both for a 47 yr re-forecast period (1961–2007). We compare cumulative runoff (CR), soil moisture (SM) and snow water equivalent (SWE) forecasts from each experiment with a VIC model-based reference data set (generated using observed atmospheric forcings) and estimate the ratio of root mean square error (RMSE) of both experiments for each forecast initialization date and lead time, to determine the relative contribution of IHCs and FS to the seasonal hydrologic predictability. We find that in general, the contributions of IHCs to seasonal hydrologic predictability is highest in the arid and snow-dominated climate (high latitude) regions of the Northern Hemisphere during forecast periods starting on 1 January and 1 October. In mid-latitude regions, such as the Western US, the influence of IHCs is greatest during the forecast period starting on 1 April. In the arid and warm temperate dry winter regions of the Southern Hemisphere, the IHCs dominate during forecast periods starting on 1 April and 1 July. In equatorial humid and monsoonal climate regions, the contribution of FS is generally higher than IHCs through most of the year.

Based on our findings, we argue that despite the limited FS (mainly for precipitation) better estimates of the IHCs could lead to improvement in the current level of seasonal hydrologic forecast skill over many regions of the globe at least during some parts of the year.